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Ethnomethodology In Sociological Analysis

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Philosophy
Wordcount: 4554 words Published: 9th May 2017

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Ethnomethodology is the study of the ways in which ordinary people construct a stable social world through everyday utterances and actions – is now a major component of all sociology and linguistics courses. The tag was invented by Harold Garfinkel, the American sociologist, who put down the basics of ethnomethodology as a hypothesis, and as an awkward assessment of all conservative sociology. Elucidating on the genesis of the term, he proposes that ‘”ethno” appeared to refer, in one way or another, to the accessibility to an associate of reasonable acquaintance of his social order as rational information of the “whatever”. In this paper, we focus more narrowly on this specific theory of ethnomethodology and how more specifically it is important in the aspects of personal and post-modernist perspective on contemporary sociological analysis. We will determine how and to what extent this theory is really convincing as well as adopt a critical stance towards it.

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There are two central ideas in ethnomethodology: indexicality and reflexivity. The fundamental initiative of indexicality is that the connotation of an expression or remark is reliant on its framework of how it will be utilized. In other words, the learning of what a statement implies relies on some consideration of the circumstance on which the declaration is used. The particulars of the relations in which the contributors are affianced are brought up in ethnomethodology. On the other hand, reflexivity refers to the actuality that our common sense of regulation is an outcome of speaking procedures: it is formed in conversations.

Garfinkel Harold (1917) is the initiator of the ethnomethodology field of research. Ethnomethodology is a hypothesis that illustrates the assortment of procedures that people use to comprehend, and make their way throughout, daily existence. One of the behaviors that individuals make good judgment of their lives and relations to others is in the course of reporting observations. These are the different ways in which individuals substantiate or make good judgment of their measures to themselves and others. Ethnomethodologists dispute that descriptions are spontaneous, which implies that by presenting descriptions of ourselves to others, we as well transform the circumstances and the likelihood for communication in that state of affairs. Ethnomethodologists have furthermore used violation experiments to comprehend the manner that individuals put up social authenticity. In these lessons, ethnomethodologists get involved in actions that infringe the undervalued suppositions of daily life, and observe to notice how other communal actors refurbish or recreate the violation in the societal structure. These lessons demonstrate how people regulate their daily lives and how they deal with confrontations to that daily arrangement. Moreover, Garfinkel has revealed how the apparently ordinary grouping of sex is socially assembled. In his interrogation with Agnes, Garfinkel discovered that sexual category is a societal achievement that entails continuous consideration to the ordinary observations that permit individuals be judged as male or female (Janet, 199, pp.102).

An ethnomethodological advance observes and evaluates social relations through endorsed behavior, what individuals do in social accomplishment and dealings. It is related to the perception of figurative interactionism, even though it centers most of its attention on the actions themselves and how they are carried out in specific frameworks, rather than taking into account how community actors create implication and understanding in relations. Authors in the ethnomethodological perception seem to be undisturbed with the philosophic emphasizing of social dealings or in increasing a comprehensive hypothetical composition that can enlighten on all features of social relations and the foundations and configurations that materialize from it. Rather, they evaluate social relations in specific circumstances and frameworks, trying to illustrate and comprehend the techniques, measures, and concerns that community actors apply in implementing social relations. For the ethnomethodologist, societal connections must not be measured as coherent or ridiculous, or dependent on “error,” rather societal relations is a pack of reasonable measures people utilize to cope with circumstances and frameworks where there is some suppleness for societal attainment and possibly some ambiguity regarding the behavior and upshot of social achievement (Goffman, 1976).

Similar to interactionist viewpoint, ethnomethodologists think of these daily relations, and the actions implicated in them, as containing a reliability or steadiness so they structure what sociologists call foundations and formations. These arrangements and outlines are constantly dynamically created through interface amid public actors, even though not automatically in a cognizant approach or as an outcome of intentionally allowing for implication and elucidation. Rather, communal actors are held responsible for their measures in the encounters that transpire in precise circumstances and framework. This implies that “social action in a context is an actively produced accomplishment” (Cohen, p. 90). The ethnomethodological point of view put emphasis on a communal interface that has a prudence of its own and the manner is one of achievement – making good judgment out of circumstances and retorting in an answerable approach. Specifically, this social demeanor is not only devotion to a particular outline of prudence forced by universal customs, positions, institutions, and arrangements of the social order.

Ethnomethodology may perhaps be more a technique responsible for sociological approaches, unlike hypothetical ones. Here, sociologists are to position themselves far from the universal perceptive of community actors, circumstances, and social interactions, and observe the universally acknowledged perceptive that public actors have taken on and, at least absolutely, acknowledged as they keep on social relations and social interactions. It not only asks the sociologist to establish and evaluate what precisely these are and how they have progressed in terms of development, but also raise issues or assess critically these, to increase the likelihood of whether these are publicly appropriate and just, as well as to reflect on substitutes. A feminist approach can be associated to the approach by taking into account the “realities of women’s nature, needs, role, and place in society” and how “systems of ideas constructed in past interactions and sustained by present ongoing interactions” (Wallace and Wolf, p. 241). A feminist issues “proper” feminine positions and errands in stipulations of nurturing, socialization mothering as well as the personal field. These approaches may possibly be helpful to those in other circumstances where they are inferior – deprived, tribal/racial factions and homosexual persons. Moreover, they guide the sociologist to doubt the place the persons dwell in and reconsider the undervalued postulations of their state of affairs. In this judgment, it may perhaps be critical, resourceful, and probably liberating.

Harold Garfinkel, an American sociologist, largely developed ethnomethodology in the early 1960s. Ethnomethodology refers to the learning of the habits in which persons make good judgment of their communal planet. It is different from additional sociological viewpoints in one exceedingly imperative admiration. Functionalists, Marxists and Symbolic Integrationists are all markedly different from each other, but they nevertheless assume that the social world is basically orderly, i.e. that patterns of behavior and relations in the general public are standard and methodical rather than unsystematic and frenzied. They respectively define these regularities thus: Functionalists consider it as the upshot of assessment agreement in the public, which guarantees that behavior matches with commonly acknowledged standards. Marxists perceive it as a consequence of the inferiority of one rank to another, it is uncertain and open to interruption by insurgency but all the same it is present. Moreover, interactionists vary from these inclusive-viewpoints in that they perceive order not so much as an attribute of the public structure but as something that is fashioned and reshaped daily in the diversity of interface conditions; it is discussed… an outcome of the procedures of description, elucidation and concession which comprises social contact. Organization is nonetheless still supposed to be a purposeful element of community life.

Ethnomethodologists, in contrast to this, begin with the assumption that social order is mere illusion. Social life merely appears to be orderly but is, in reality, potentially chaotic. Societal array is created in the mentalities of communal actors as the social order tackles the character as a sequence of intelligence imitations and incidents which one is required to in one way or another categorize into a coherent pattern. Garfinkel’s concept of “indexicality” implies that individuals make good judgment of a comment, signal or a specific action by indicating the framework in which it transpires; to be precise they register it to precise conditions. We make sense of a situation according to the context in which we find ourselves, looking for clues as to what the situation is ‘supposed to be’. This leads us to accept the situation as authentic. If a fellow student walks into your room in halls wearing a stethoscope and a white coat, you will be aware that he/she is not a doctor but maybe going to a fancy-dress party. However, if someone you do not know approaches you at a hospital in similar garb, you might be very likely to assume that they are a member of the medical profession (Garfinkel, 1967).

The technique most favored by ethnomethodologists (particularly Garfinkel) is to momentarily interrupt the planet which its inhabitants undervalue and observe how they respond. The motive of this is to depict background suppositions that have been acknowledged as authenticity in due course. In one of his research tests, Garfinkel requested students to conduct themselves as if they were guests in their individual abodes, and document the bewildered responses of their parents as they put effort to understand the unexpected interference of the usually familiar association with their children. Ethnomethodology leans on disregarding ‘information’ conveyed through communication, focusing solely on how the communication was executed. This is because the attitude of ethnomethodology advocates that all implications are, and can merely eternally be, one-sided and that the single purposeful common realism is the actuality of universally understood communication techniques.

Ethnomethodology’s reliance upon a kind of relativism is often used to criticize it. In taking this relativist stance, ethnomethodology leaves itself unable to make moral judgments about meanings and therefore it is largely unable to undertake problems like discrimination and authority. Nevertheless, it can be disputed that ethnomethodology is not purely relativistic because it obviously has to provide at least some rules for itself in order to work. The ethnomethodologist must make, and rely upon the assumption that others will appreciate the significance of his or her effort, in a similar approach that you might read and understand these words on the paper. I am discussing something and trying to be non-judgmental about it, but no doubt it does contain my own values.

Ethnomethodologists might argue then, that the only thing which humans are really good at is the production of order out of chaos. All other human capacities, such as moral judgment, would be seen as merely subjective and having no truth. Ethnomethodology is certainly interesting as an analysis of how persons make good judgment of the globe as a social place, and how we construct a reality from the minimal amount of information available to us. It shares its investigative attitude with symbolic interactionism. It was mainly developed by Garfinkel. It has its roots in the phenomenology of Schutz and the writings of Talcott Parsons who was Garfinkel’s teacher at Harvard University (Farganis, 2000).

Development of Ethnomethodology

One of the achievements of ethnomethodological effort has been its exhibition of the significant penalties for both community presumption and study that flows from the fundamental spot of indexicality. What ethnomethodology presents is a replica of thoughtfulness which relies on intelligence being recuperated from speech in context via a variety of techniques of logic creation. (Heritage, 1984)

Talcott Parsons

Parsons had been attempting to link the three separate elements of personality, culture and the social system. Although society is largely ‘systematic’, individuals also clearly make choices about particular courses of action. What forces, Parsons asked, actually give a social structure to the choices that people make; when those same structural forces must necessarily be rooted in those actions resulting from those choices?

The structural forces must transcend the action; and Parsons called these ’emergent properties’, of which the most important are ‘normative value commitments’ or the shared commitments that each of us has regarding social propriety in particular contexts. Because we share them, we are motivated to comply with perceived social requirements. And we do so because we are morally motivated to do so. This is Talcott Parsons answer to the question of how ‘order’ comes about; it involves ‘motivated compliance to the normative order’. Parson’s helps us to understand how a social system of action is derived from the orderliness of stability, rationality and predictability (James, 1994).

Alfred Schutz

Garfinkel’s perspective also derived from the phenomenological thinking of Alfred Schutz, for whom ‘the system’ was an insufficient answer. He believed that the concept of ‘action’ must instead be derived from the position of the actor in his/her daily experiences of life. He said that thinking of things from the ‘objective’ perspective of a systems approach, although apparently highly suited to a ‘scientific’ sociology, ignores the subjective position of the actor and transforms his/her perspective into that of the sociologist. Rather than analyzing what the actor might understand of a situation, sociologists would transpose these explanations into idealized sociological versions of what had actually happened which fitted and thus maintained the system. If one takes Parson’s view, the whole concept of the actor’s view is lost.

For Schutz, the world is an interpretive reality in which any particular action might have more than one meaning for the actor. A meaning is revisable as a perspective in the intersubjective space that exists between actors. In other words, although we experience the world through an individual consciousness, we understand that the experience of it is not entirely personal and unique. It is taken for granted by each of us that others see and ‘mean’ much the same things as one. Everyday life is thus taken for granted as a largely objective phenomenon; yet we also take for granted the subjective position one has of it from one’s own particular and unique perspective. The social world is a given, which existed before one came along. Other than when we are ‘stepping back’ and taking a ‘philosophical’ stance towards it, it is impossible to constantly subject its reality to question. Schutz suggests then, that our ‘common sense’ appreciation of experience is constituted by ‘typifications’ (rather like scripts or schemata in social psychology) which refer to what one finds to be a regularity, or typical event, object or action. These regularities make us accept the everyday world as mundane… or everyday! (James, 1990)

Language is a kind of iconography or library of such typifications which we have inherited in the process of our socialization. When we explain others’ actions to ourselves we again typify their reasons and intentions: “Well he would behave that way because he’s a …” or “she clearly intends to …” etc. These attributions of cause or intention are quite a routine because we ‘intuitively’ know the type of person we are seeing/speaking with etc. We hold the world in common with others which stresses for Schutz the importance of the ‘reciprocity of perspectives’; even where there is a difference of viewpoint it is socially organized… an airline pilot is expected to know more about flying than I do!( James, 1990)

In everyday life, one attends to the ongoing, practical process of ‘living’ as events occur and attending to what is most relevant at ‘this’ moment according to one’s interests and purposes. Indeed, unless one is disturbed by a strong contestation of one’s viewpoint, one will simply accept ‘what is happening in the way it happens’. Scientists, or more particularly sociologists, Schutz argues, do not do this; they stand back and analyze from an extremely diverse viewpoint from that of the performer. They produce concepts which refer to human actions as if they were fixed quantities (which they aren’t) and employ second degree constructs from the first degree construct of the actor’s actual, lived experiences. Thus, for Schutz, sociology had been ‘making sense’ of events which already had sense for the actors (James, 1990).

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Our understandings of social situations are ‘constructed from within’ according to Garfinkel. This means that the core elements of social order – its order and intelligibility are ‘products of the activity itself ‘. This situation is particular to this moment, to these participants and is what Garkinkel refers to as ‘locally produced’ by its participants. This does not however mean that any of us merely does ‘whatever we like’; we are bound by rules based on the social reality of the situation – a practical reality. But it is very important to understand that Garfinkel stresses this reality being conceived as consisting only in actors’ understandings… i.e. their understanding of social features as fixed, typical, required etc. is the only thing that makes them appear to be objective. We act on the basis of such understandings and thus produce our activities as social ones. They thus fit the context in which we find ourselves.

There two suggestions of ethnomethodologists: to treat social settings as practically accomplished and to treat members of the action as practical enquirers. The social setting is thus, not ‘out there’, but is an ongoing accomplishment achieved through interaction; a product, a process and a practical accomplishment (Denzin, 1993). We may then perceive the world as a constraint, feel we must do things (like be polite) even though we would sometimes wish not to. It is unimportant here whether an action is morally ‘right’; Garfinkel isn’t interested in what we construct, but in how we construct it. What actually happens is identical to how it is perceived and recognized by the actor. In the formulations or ways in which we describe an event, we are inseparably connected with that event – we are the event!

Describing, referring and naming are practical actions within that setting. Every time we speak and act we are engaged in the reciprocal consequences that we elicit from other actors who are also present. There is therefore no distinction here between an event and the description of that event by someone in the setting. One would generally produce actions in the setting which make clear to those present (in the course of the activity) what is going on; not make excuses and repairs after the event. What someone says is what they actually mean. When we give a reason for something, that’s actually why we did what we did. The social world is orderly because we constantly make sense of contingencies and particularities as knowable, understandable entities.

Ethnomethodologists engage in ‘conversational analysis’ which demonstrates how conversational organization involves structures which are ‘context sensitive’. Through these we engage in conversations which are quite specific to their local context. The machinery is general, but its local uses and particular outcomes are specific. For instance:

‘What’s your name sunshine?’


‘You own this place?’


Conversation Analysis

Appreciative the character of discussion analysis would be made simpler if it is thought as an improvement of ethnomethodology which has tagged along the insights concerning the reflexive and indexical character of achievement and use them particularly to informal relations. The apprehension with indexicality is here apparent in an alarm with how utterances recount to the spoken progressions to which they fit in; and the anxiety with reflexivity materializes in the secure concentration paid to the sort of interactional vocation utterances and entire successions achieve.

Schegloff Emanuel, Gail Jefferson and Sacks Harvey, who have been mainly intimately linked to budding conversational study, also assumed the common ethnomethodological proposal that relations is systematically based. Therefore, in researching on conversation they began with the supposition that what is spoken is not the approach it is unintentionally, that structures of words are not uneven and complete make-dos, but are premeditated in their element to be receptive to their chronological framework and to their function in communication (Sacks, 1992; Sacks et al., 1974). A discussion methodical viewpoint on realistic conversation will begin by bearing in mind its part in proceedings which are, consecutively, rooted in series. Hence before we carry on with the subject of particulars we will require something of a parenthesis on the interface successions in which they transpire.

The Critics

According to ethnomethodologists, conventional sociologists are constructing a sense of social order in the same way as a layperson: namely, meanings are regarded as substantive and unproblematic. Consequently they are taken for granted. By contrast, ethnomethodologists argue that the proper task of sociology is to sort out the interpretive rules by means of which we establish our sense of order, rather than engage in reflexively establishing that sense. In this way, conventional sociology becomes an object of study for ethnomethodology, in the same way as any other human social activity is an object of study. Thus, Garfinkel’s book contains both an essay on coding answers to sociological interviews and an essay on trans-sexuality, the activities sharing an equal status as ways of producing social reality (Wallace, 1995).

A common criticism of ethnomethodology is that it does not tell us anything very important. By definition, the big political and social issues of the day are beyond its scope, since the concern is with how we constitute this world, rather than what we constitute it as being. It is argued that the rules it draws out are also comparatively low level and merely tell us what we already know. It denies the constraints of social life upon the actor. It suggests that sociologists can do little more than report an actor’s version of a situation. These are based on misunderstandings of ethnomethodology and tend to come from sociologists with a very different perspective. They amount to saying that it doesn’t look at things in the ‘right’ way!

It is microscopic and trivial; this also suggests bias. The ethno’s clearly do have a defensible justification for their perspective- ethno’s study the actor’s methods of construction, but simultaneously employ those methods of construction. It is itself an organized social activity which is practically accomplished – i.e. the problem of ‘radical reflexivity’: the study of the study of the study…! The answer they give is that this infinite regress is an acceptable critique but it isn’t their problem; it’s a philosophical issue. It does not reflect negatively on their theoretical perspective (Sacks, 1992).


Ethnomethodology facilitates us to move beyond simple announcements of the appeal of ‘processual’ anthropology to its concrete practice. Garfinkel’s methods of ethnomethodological breakdown authorize a spotlight on ‘moments of crisis’ in conversation. It is such an instant that the ‘negotiation of meaning’ is clearest and hence conversational analysis can be employed as an influential analytical instrument of ‘processual’ anthropology. In stipulations of the associations connecting ethnomethodology and other sociological viewpoints, and involving the ethnomethodological design and its subjects of enquiry, this is conceivably an added foundationalist and productive progress than is occasionally accredited (Sacks, 1974). According to Dennis (2004), Lynch argues convincingly for the cross-fertilization of ethnomethodology and the sociology of methodical or rather scientific awareness to elucidate the procedural and epistemological practicalities of the common sciences. Lynch posits an epistemological and practical break, situated about Garfinkel’s ‘abandonment’ of Schutz’s commencement of systematic processes. However, Garfinkel’s afterward works are disputed to be advanced to their previous, ‘protoethnomethodological’, equivalents to the point that they no longer break on Schutz’s inconsistent and scientistic emergence to methodological inflexibility.

Although ethnomethodological work continues, it is neither as prominent, nor as controversial as hitherto. On the other hand, a modified version of some of its insights is now almost taken-for-granted: there is, for example, a much wider recognition among sociologists of the problematic nature of meaning and of the way in which our talk does contribute to the creation of our social reality. Meanwhile, ethnomethodology has become a relatively prosperous alternative discipline, with its own conferences, journals, and centers of excellence.


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